Are You Playing the Song Together? — Or Just “at the Same Time”?

Red Henry

The title for this blog may seem strange, but it's pretty important. As I mentioned before, Christopher and I played a party Saturday night before last, and we had two fine musicians with us-- Mike Munford and Ira Gitlin. All four of us fit together perfectly, and our band dynamics-- making the instrument leads stand out, putting the vocals out front, adapting the backup every moment to make the lead sound its best-- were excellent.

During our first set break, Ira commented on this. He knew how rare it is for everybody in a band to be paying attention and always playing so as to make the lead instrument or vocal sound its best. He knew how very often, even with good musicians, the guitar player will be showing off his fancy bass runs, or the harmony singers will pay little attention to the lead singer, or the lead singer will be drowned out by a banjo player who's playing lead all the time, all over everybody else's vocals and instruments. But the four of us were playing TOGETHER-- not just playing the same song at the same time, but listening to each other and playing together. And it was good.

You can pay attention to this too, whenever you're playing music with other people. Is someone else singing a song? Make sure you're not the one drowning him (or her) out. Is somebody else playing a lead break? Listen to that person, and play some gentle backup as appropriate to make the lead sound good. LISTEN all the time, and do whatever your ears tell you to, to make the music always sound as good as it can. That way, you won't be just playing the song at the same time-- you'll be playing it together.

7 thoughts on “Are You Playing the Song Together? — Or Just “at the Same Time”?

  1. Red Henry

    Post author

    Marty, thanks for asking. Murphy and I play locally from time to time for parties and various other events. Occasionally we are fortunate enough to have Casey or Christopher playing with us. But we haven’t done much family-band work in a long time– it’s just too difficult to get us all in the same place at the same time!


  2. Red Henry

    Post author

    You’re right. Well, of course I would pick with this group any time I could, but it was just a one-time party gig with a group that Christopher put together for the occasion. Maybe it’ll happen again!


  3. Martin Bacon

    Hope so and I hope I get to listen, because it was a whole bunch of really talented, really nice folks that played that night.

  4. Martha Sheperd

    Playing Together! Boy you said it all. I think this should be required reading for all jammers. When I first started playing mando 7 years ago my mentors said the same thing to me prior to my first jam. Unfortunately there are some really good pickers and singers out there who need to learn to Listen and stop trying to steal the show.

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